Box Makers, Birds, And the Future of HD


Philadelphia may be crazy for its Eagles, but it was a pair of turkey vultures that made the greatest impression at this years’s SCTE Cable-Tec Expo.

Pace Micro Technology Americas employed a pair of the universally reviled birds – one real, the other an actor in a fuzzy suit – to promote its DC-550 HD digital set-top box, and while the stunt was greeted with a certain amount of incomprehension, it did the trick. Pace’s booth in the Pennsylvania Convention Center was swamped with curiosity seekers, most of whom came by to get a closer look at HD’s future.

Although SCTE didn’t mark the 550’s debut (Pace first showed the box at February’s CableConnects Regional Broadband Conference & Expo in San Antonio), the show seemed to herald Pace’s emergence as a serious tier-one contender. Just recently deployed by Time Warner Cable after a relatively swift trial period, the box is meant to give both Pace and its MSO partners a leg up in an overcrowded market.

“We’re not just about competing with Scientific-Atlanta and Motorola,” said VP of engineering Graham Williams. “Rather, we see us helping the industry fight off the telcos and satellite.”

Pioneer is another set-top manufacturer looking to get out from under the long shadows cast by S-A and Motorola. Dan Ward, Pioneer’s director of marketing for its cable and communications division, showed off the Voyager 3510HD box, which began shipping to TWC in late March. As he ran through the box’s features – a built-in ATSC digital decoder, full graphics over HD, etc. – Ward reiterated the message that rival Pace was anxious to drive home. “We need to educate the consumer that there are more options out there than DirecTV,” Ward said.

Having unveiled its DCT-6000 line of thick client set-tops the previous week, Motorola devoted a good deal of time to familiarizing visitors with the advantages of dual HD/DVR functionality. Both the DCT-6200 and the DCT-6208 performed with the kind of alacrity you’d expect from a unit with an 800 MIP processing capacity.

At the back of the hall – but at the top of the heap – S-A had its new-generation Explorer 3250HD box on hand, although director of product marketing Bob Scott had more to say about the company’s Gigabit QAM modulator, and how it can help MSOs keep the DBS wolf at bay.

“The No. 1 differentiator between cable and satellite is the ability to offer interactive, real-time services,” Scott said. “That’s an advantage that cable has to hold on to.”

As for Pace and its avian mascot, the decidedly downbeat branding will be, um, short-lived, said VP of marketing David Novak.

“We’re saying that we can smell the death of satellite. It’s a strong statement married with a memorable image.”


*Now that TWC has deployed Pace’s HD boxes, can a significant market share be far behind?

COPYRIGHT 2003 Copyright by Media Central Inc., A PRIMEDIA Company. All rights reserved.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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